We walked into Santiago de Compostela on Thursday afternoon. Only the little scallop shells on the sidewalks, and the occasional sign post, were there to keep us on track while navigating the modern roads into the city. Finally, into the old part, down a hill, through a passage and into the large open square facing the cathedral.
The square is huge so a few dozen pilgrims hanging about seems like a minor event. Many of them had been walking for a month or more, making me feel like a junior pilgrim after only 13 days and 264 km.
One charming part of the pilgrimage is meeting up unexpectedly with others you might have chatted with previously, but parted ways from days or weeks before. In Santiago we enjoyed meeting a Japanese woman who had walked 750 km from the Pyrenees, a Swiss woman who started in the middle of France in July, an American-Dutch man who walked 2300 km from The Hague in 115 days, an Australian couple doing the last 110 km from Sarria. These people were close to our age, but there were many young people as well. Probably the majority of pilgrims were doing El Camino by themselves, although there is no shortage of company along the way. I doubt that we could have stopped anywhere for more than 10 minutes without another pilgrim or several passing by. And this was November!
On the square in Santiago we accepted an offer of a private room from a woman who approached us. It was modern and very comfortable, in a building in the historic centre.
The next stop was the Pilgrims Office to present our “credenciales” – special passports which we got stamped daily or more often at coffee shops, hostels, museums – to prove that we had walked at least the last 100 km – to get our Compostela certificates.
On Saturday we attended the daily pilgrims’ mass in the cathedral, and paid our respects to the relics of St. James (Santiago).
Arrival in Santiago is somewhat anticlimactic, probably for most pilgrims unless they have a strong religious quest that is satisfied.
In Santiago, the pilgrims tend to hang around the plaza, looking to see which friends have arrived each day, or exploring the Pilgrim Museum, looking at photos that remind them of the journey just finished. It is a strange feeling to be loose with no backpack and no destination to reach. Some people walk on to Finisterre on the Atlantic, 80 km further. I would have done that but N wasn’t keen to carry her backpack any further.
So, our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is finished, at least for this year.